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ODHHS Information and Tech Assistance
Categories: Technology, Captioning 
FCC Report and Order on Captioning: Summary
(Source: Caption Center)
The FCC has published its Report and Order on closed captioning. The original document is 148 pages long and is available at the FCC´s web site (www.fcc.gov). We hope you find this summary helpful.
Entities responsible for compliance
The FCC defines video programming as programming which is distributed and exhibited for residential use. Program distributors who provide programming directly to consumers´ homes are responsible for compliance. Program distributors are defined as:
  • broadcasters  
  • cable operators  
  • wireless cable operators  
  • instructional television fixed services (ITFS) or local multipoint distribution services (LMDS)  
  • satellite master antenna television (SMATV) operators  
  • direct broadcast satellite (DBS) providers  
  • direct-to-home (DTH) providers  
  • home satellite dish (HSD) providers  
  • open video system (OVS) operators
Although the FCC holds these program distributors responsible, the Commission expects that captioning will actually be a shared responsibility between distributors, program providers and program owners.
New programming requirements
The FCC defines "new programming" as programming that is first published or exhibited on or after January 1, 1998, the first day the ruling takes effect.
The phase-in period for new programming rules is eight years. Compliance will be measured on a calendar-quarter basis. Based on a 20-hour broadcast day (see exemption below re: programs airing between 2 AM and 6 AM), the FCC states that:
  • Program distributors must continue to provide captioned video programming at the same level as the average level of captioning that they provided during the first six months of 1997 even if that amount of captioning exceeds the requirements. This has been referred to as the "no backsliding" provision.  
  • Between January 1, 2000, and December 31, 2001, program distributors must provide at least 450 hours of captioned programming per calendar quarter or five hours per day. If the program distributor provides less than 450 hours of new programming, then 95% of its new programming must be captioned;  
  • Between January 1, 2002, and December 31, 2003, program distributors must provide at least 900 hours of captioned video programming per calendar quarter, or 10 hours per day. If the programming distributor provides less than 900 hours of new programming, then 95% of its new programming must be captioned;  
  • Between January 1, 2004, and December 31, 2005, program distributors must provide at least an average of 1,350 hours of captioned video programming per calendar quarter or 15 hours per day. If the program distributor provides less than 1,350 hours of new programming, then 95% of its new programming must be captioned;  
  • As of January 1, 2006, and thereafter, 95% of the program distributor´s new programming must be captioned.
Programs produced and aired prior to January 1, 1998 The FCC refers to programs published or exhibited prior to January 1, 1998 as pre-rule programming. This has also been referred to as library programming. The FCC established a 10-year phase-in period for captioning of 75% of this programming. Full compliance is expected by 2008 and will also be measured on a calendar-quarter basis. While the FCC established no benchmarks for this rule, the Commission will revisit this issue in four years (2002). If sufficient progress has not been made, the FCC may institute benchmarks at that time. The FCC may also adjust the percentage of pre-rule programming required to be captioned.
Passing on captions intact to the consumer
All programs which are captioned must be passed to consumers with captions intact. However, if the distributor edits the captioned program, reformatting the captions is not required. See more in Reformatting below.
The FCC established no rule requiring the reformatting of programs, which is necessary if a captioned program is edited. However the Commission does state that it "expects that video programming providers will make the reformatting of captions a common practice when programs are edited." The FCC will revisit this issue as the rules are implemented and will consider at that time whether a reformatting requirement is necessary.
  • Programming bound by a contract in effect on or before February 8, 1996 in which closed captioning is prohibited by the contract. No further extension or renewal of such a contract is permitted.  
  • Non-English language programming with the exception of programs which are produced using an electronic news room system. Those programs must be captioned using an electronic news room captioning system.  
  • Primarily textual programming including channels dedicated to on-screen program schedules or guides, community calendars, etc.  
  • Late night programming that is distributed between 2 AM and 6 AM local time.  
  • If a program service covers more than one time zone, the program distributor providing the channel will be exempt for any four-hour period they choose, commencing no earlier that 12 AM local time and ending no later than 7 AM local time in any location where the service is delivered for viewing.  
  • Interstitials, promotional announcements and PSAs that are 10 minutes or less in duration.  
  • Advertising of less than five minutes in duration.  
  • Instructional television fixed service or ITFS programming that is intended for specific receive sites and not for general distribution to residential viewers.  
  • Locally Produced and Distributed Non-News Programming with no repeat value, of local public interest, and for which the electronic news room technique of captioning is unavailable is exempt. The programming must be locally created and not available outside of the local service area or market of a broadcast station or the equivalent for a cable system operator. The FCC gives examples of local parades, local high school and nonprofessional sports, unscripted local talk shows or community theater productions. The FCC anticipates a review of this exemption during the transition period.  
  • Programming on New Networks broadcast or nonbroadcast, national or regional will be exempt for four years. The number of years will be determined by the network´s launch date. A network must comply with the closed-captioning rules at the end of the four-year exemption period.  
  • Music programming that is primarily non-vocal in nature such as symphony or ballet is exempt.  
  • No program distributor will be required to spend more than 2% of gross annual revenues on captioning. The gross annual revenues will be calculated based on the previous year´s revenues. The provider must spend up to 2% of gross annual revenues on captioning whether or not this brings the distributor into compliance with the established benchmarks.  
  • Providers with less than $3,000,000 in gross annual revenues will not be required to spend any money to caption programming. However, they will be required to pass through programming which has already been captioned with those captions intact.
Compliance is calculated on a per-channel, calendar-quarter basis.
Open captioning or subtitles in the language of the target audience may be used in lieu of closed captioning.
Live programs or repeats of programs originally transmitted live that are captioned using the electronic news room technique will be considered captioned.
Live portions of PBS pledge fundraising activities which utilize automated software to create a continuous captioned message will be considered captioned.
Programming produced solely for closed circuit or private distribution is not subject to these rules.
Programming which is exempt, but which actually contains captions can count toward compliance up to January 1, 2006, except for those programs distributed between 2 AM and 6 AM.
If two or more networks or sources of programming share a single channel, each network or source individually must be in compliance with the rules.
Program distributors will not be required to provide closed captioning for programming that is by law not subject to their editorial control. This would include programming involving candidates for public office, commercial leased access, public access, governmental and educational access programming, programming distributed by direct broadcast satellite (DBS) services in compliance with the noncommercial programming requirement and programming distributed by a common carrier or that is distributed on an open video system. If the programming is not otherwise exempt from captioning, the entity that contracts for its distribution must comply with the closed captioning requirements.
Procedures for Exemptions Based on Undue Burden
Any party within the program distribution chain can file an undue burden petition. The FCC will consider how the captioning requirement might hinder program production and distribution.
The petition for exemption will be placed on public notice for public comment within a 30 day time period. To the extent possible, petitioners must provide proposals regarding alternative ways to provide access to their programming that are less burdensome than captioning. These solutions can include increased used of graphics or sign-language interpretation.
The FCC can deny or approve all or part of a petition.
While a petition for exemption based on undue burden is pending, the program is exempt from captioning requirements.
Standards for Accuracy and Quality
All program providers must ensure that programming with closed captions is delivered to viewers with the captions complete and intact. This is an extension of existing rules in the Cable Act.
Program providers are responsible for monitoring programming and maintaining their equipment and signal transmissions to ensure that captions are complete and intact. Video program providers can rely on certifications from programming suppliers that the program is indeed captioned.
At this time, the FCC is not adopting standards for non-technical aspects of captioningÑ grammar, spelling, etc. However, the FCC will be monitoring all aspects of implementation including the quality of captioning and may adopt standards at a later date.
Initial complaints should first go to the program distributor responsible for the delivery of the programming to the consumers´ homes. The complaint must be in writing, state specifically what rule was violated and must contain evidence of the violation.
Violations include failure to meet the established benchmarks or failure to pass existing captions through to the consumer complete and intact.
Complaints must be filed by the end of the calendar quarter following the calendar quarter in which the violation occurred. They must be resolved by 45 days following the end of the calendar quarter when the violation occurred or by 45 days following the receipt of the complaint, whichever is later.
If the complaint is not resolved by the program distributor, it may be taken to the FCC by the complainant. The FCC will review the complaint, the response and all the documentation and determine if a violation occurred. If a violation has occurred the FCC may impose penalties. For flagrant violation, the FCC may require the program distributor to exceed the established captioning benchmarks.
Complete complaint procedures can be found in the FCC documents or on the FCC´s website.
New Technologies
Captioning requirements will remain in place for digital or high definition television, or DTV. The FCC expects programming entities involved in the development of DTV will take into account the need to caption. When receiver standards for DTV are approved, the process for developing a standard captioning process for DTV will proceed normally. The FCC will formally gather information on DTV captioning needs when it approves DTV receiver standards.
The FCC recognizes the convergence of TV and computers and the growth of programming on the Internet and may address this at a later date.
Emergency Information
The FCC finds this a very important area and will issue a proceeding in the near future to examine the issue of accessible emergency information.
Matters for future review
  • Benchmarks for pre-rule programming  
  • Exemptions for non-English language programming  
  • Exemptions for locally produced non-news programming  
  • The use of electronic news room captioning and whether to mandate real-time captioning of news  
  • Standards for non-technical quality of captions  
  • Reformatting of edited, previously captioned programs  
  • Programming that airs between 2 AM and 6 AM
Prepared by:
The Caption Center
125 Western Avenue
Boston, MA 02134
617 492-9225 - voice/TTY
617 562-0590 - fax
caption@wgbh.org - e-mail
www.wgbh.org/caption - Web